Natural Resources and Renewables Minister Tory Rushton said the province is willing to work with municipalities who want to learn more about how to protect their communities from wildfires.
Rushton said the province has been actively coordinating the FireSmart Canada program since 2018. As reported in the Examiner June 11, retired Halifax fire captain Paul Irving submitted a report to the Halifax fire department back in 2004 — 14 years earlier — urging the adoption of this fire prevention approach, which had been successfully implemented elsewhere.
Irving’s report was shelved and he told the Examiner there was “no political will” in 2004 to get it going. On Thursday, Rushton told reporters that municipalities bear most of the responsibility for executing the principles of FireSmart — making sure there are green spaces in new developments that will serve as natural firebreaks and ensuring there is more than one exit road leading from each neighbourhood.
‘We know we’re in a climate crisis’
Public Works and Transportation Minister Kim Masland told reporters that within the past week, the Halifax Regional Municipality has approached her department to ask about obtaining Crown land to create more exits from subdivisions.
“Emergency preparedness is something we all need to look at. We know we are in a climate crisis,” Masland said.
The Department of Natural Resources and Renewables is responsible for promoting and co-ordinating FireSmart. DNRR employees carry out the assessments for property owners and help advise about specific actions to fireproof homes. Rushton said FireSmart education is currently underway in 40 communities and two have completed the process and are designated as FireSmart communities.
Housing minister John Lohr said progress is being made on trying to find housing for people who lost their homes in the fires. He urged anyone who wants help with housing to register with the Canadian Red Cross, which is coordinating this effort. Lohr said people in his department are currently in discussions with manufacturers of prefabricated and modular homes to see how many might be made available but it is too early to say more.
Nearly all employees of the provincial government, including teachers, nurses, and retirees, as well as Airbnb owners and even newborn babies, have had their names and some personal information stolen by cybercriminals who breached a government information system known as MOVEit.
So far, the government said it believes no financial or banking information was among the records that got hacked. Drivers who received parking tickets from HRM recently are also among those affected by the theft.
The Examiner asked Colton LeBlanc, the minister responsible for cybersecurity and digital solutions, why the province hasn’t made it a policy to encrypt files before that information is shared among government departments with outside agencies. Here is LeBlanc’s reply:
LeBlanc: We want to continue to be transparent with Nova Scotians as we have been since day one. But when it comes to providing details about the services and the security measures in place, I do not want to be in a position of providing those details to hackers and make it easier for them.
Examiner: Is it fair to say that these files were not encrypted?
LeBlanc: This event is a global cybersecurity breach that has not only impacted Nova Scotia but many entities across the globe. We have applied the same security patches as other jurisdictions and our priority was to contain the breach, identify the impacts, and start the notification process…we are living in a digital world. We must continually improve our practices and it’s a priority for this government.
There are still more questions than answers about this widespread breach that also affected British Airways and the BBC. The province has promised to offer credit monitoring and fraud protection services to the tens of thousands of individuals who have had their names and addresses and in some cases, social insurance numbers, stolen. Those letters are expected to go out next week.
Atlantic Loop doubts
Premier Tim Houston again expressed doubts that the Atlantic Loop project will be the silver bullet that will allow Nova Scotia to meet ambitious environmental goals to reduce carbon emissions by 2030. The project involves building new overhead transmission lines through New Brunswick to bring approximately 500 MWh of hydroelectricity from northern Quebec to Nova Scotia.
Although the province and Nova Scotia Power are still in discussions with the other provinces and the federal government, the process appears to have stalled. Houston said while the Atlantic Loop would make it easier for the province to meet its environmental targets, the original $5 billion cost of the project “has gone up” and the federal government has not indicated how much money it is prepared to contribute.
“When you weigh up the need to meet the environmental goals, which we are serious about, and finding the balance with affordability, if the cost of the Atlantic Loop is too much of a financial burden for Nova Scotians to bear then we have to look at other alternatives. I think that is kind of where we are at.”
Houston said those other alternatives include Bay of Fundy tidal energy and offshore wind developments similar to those operating in Scotland and northern Scandinavian countries. Houston said he is also willing to consider generating electricity from nuclear reactors as New Brunswick and Ontario do — perhaps the first time in decades a Nova Scotia premier has publicly supported nuclear power.
Houston said he remains “hopeful” that Ottawa will be there to support ratepayers in Nova Scotia but “we cannot place all our hopes on the Atlantic Loop and I am certainly not.”